Stone Collection — Keith Miller

Sweet hooky from potluck and hymnsing
to trudge new snow into the gully,
end of the glacier’s run.
Under two miles of ice the land bowed,
sprang in slow spring, is still springing.
The northern lakes are remnants, diminishing.
As far as Salt Creek they’ve found diamonds,
culled from pipes in Canada and carried south cooled in ice.
In the gully, hopscotching limestone,
I find crow feather, deer skull, frozen goldfinch.
The stones are soft, pocked and pierced.
Banging one apart, I release a spider’s ghost and egg case.
Too cold for drops, too far from hymns, when my hammer ceases
I think I hear settling stones,
but it’s not even the wind.

We head to Hell’s Gate after breakfast,
among vents and sulfur blooms, rivulets of heat.
Between basalt colonnades: nutmeg grass and warthogs on their knees.
Kestrels buff shelves of breezes.
Through thorns to a riverbed where six schoolgirls will drown next week,
but now it’s galaxies of mica, troves of polished soapstone.
Along the track we spot a spire.
Slow geckos among euphorbia, we climb clockwise
and only recognize halfway up we’re on solid obsidian, tall as a church.
Wall of black glass, faces whorled with dark rainbows.
From the topknot we look north to the ragged horizon.
1860 Longonot blew, splashing glass and black foam, and sleeps now.
But in the shallows under zebras and hornbills, fires churn.
Climbing down fresh rock, widdershins, we find a half-tame hyrax,
fat in a thorny sanctum floored in peppercorn droppings.
He whistles, emerges to take our biscuit offering.

Last morning of reunion, before the long desert drive,
I wander wet pastures upriver, wary of bears, then on stones.
After a parched spring, the river’s just dashes of silver, noiseless.
Beyond the pool where the kids made boats of leaves,
past the bridge and four bends,
I find a volume of shale, a leaf a year, so I stand
millennia deep in a library of stone cuneiform.
The shale’s brittle, color of cookies, smells of rain and attics.
On my knees I prize up clotted pages
—aquatints of oval seed, faded fern, flattened husk—
and at last, hauling with eight fingers at a stone tome,
turn up a serpent sigil: worm or stem, scored.
A black fan shifts and I glance up into a jet eye, canted.
The crow says a word. When I step away it hops down,
sorting through shale confetti, hoping for beetles.


Keith Miller is the author of three novels —The Book of Flying, published by Riverhead Books in 2004, The Book on Fire, published in 2010 and The Sins of Angels, due in 2016. He also published a translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s The Illuminations. Other translations, fiction, and essays have been featured in Interfictions, Arabesques, Rhubarb Magazine, on NPR, and elsewhere.